November 19, 2014 Nick Preston

Opportunities for underrepresented Scholars (OURS)

The OURS-Project aims to empower women, especially women of color to aim for higher positions in Higher Education. The program is provided online therefore academic professionals can participate as well. A special focus lays on the STEM disciplines.

The OURS-Project aims to empower women, especially women of color to aim for higher positions in Higher Education. The program is provided online therefore academic professionals can participate as well. A special focus lays on the STEM disciplines.

Objectives of the Intervention

The program is designed to increase the gender diversity in the academic ranks at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) through the acquisition of leadership skills that will render women more competitive for senior positions within these institutions. The program provides initial funding to support full scholarships for eligible participants for a Post-Graduate Certificate in Academic Leadership (after getting their PHDs and having –or about to get–tenure). The OURS program is designed to prepare women (especially women of color) in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) for academic leadership roles, either within their STEM disciplines or within institutional administrations. The program trains about 20 new academic leaders a year and works together with many different institutions, and ties in with other initiatives to promote academic careers among underrepresented students, particularly in STEM.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The idea was initiated by the Chicago School for Professional Psychology, and in particular by Dr. Orlando Taylor who has dedicated his life to access and equity in higher education. He and other university leaders identified the lack of women and especially women of color in leadership positions in academia as a whole, but in STEM in particular as:

  1. a gap in developing research;
  2. an affront to the social justice agenda;
  3. detrimental to the reality and the demands of the current labour market.

Using an action-learning model, the program creatively integrates the professional education of women in STEM at HBCUs with authentic leadership experiences to help participants respond effectively to the pedagogical issues and academic leadership challenges of the 21st century. OURS is designed to equip women in the STEM disciplines at HBCUs with extensive knowledge of the psychology of leadership, to provide them with mentored opportunities to assume leadership roles, and to prepare them to overcome institutional barriers to advancement that women typically face in advancing to leadership positions.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

By supporting women, especially women of color, in the STEM disciplines in realizing their leadership potential, OURS is expected to help ensure that students and faculty in the STEM disciplines will benefit from the skills, wisdom, breadth of experience and unique perspectives that women academic leaders will provide. Each year around 20 participants enroll in the program and they come from institutions from different geographical areas in the US. The project is implemented on the level of: staff and management of institutions.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

According to 2009 statistics, HBCUs, which represent only 3% of U.S. colleges and universities, graduate approximately 25% of African Americans that acquire undergraduate degrees. In many of the STEM disciplines, these same institutions graduate an even higher percentage (e.g. physics where the percentage is closer to 40%).

African American women form a significant portion of the HBCU population, with representation on the order of 70%. In addition, HBCUs have a disproportionately concentrated presence of African American women faculty and have had a 157 percent increase in the number of African American women faculty in STEM from 1993 [n=350] to 2006 [n=900] (Mack, Rankins, & Winston, 2011). This significant increase in recent years would suggest that HBCUs now have an unprecedented opportunity to transform their institutions. This momentum has been acknowledged by the National Science Foundation which has given the grant to start this program.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

The program's certificate provides training for women in leadership, contemporary issues in higher education, interpersonal dynamics, ethics, and institutional advancement and governance. Graduates will be able to assume leadership positions in higher education, up to and including the level of President. Initial funding for the Certificate has been provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The program is led by a team of experts with proven knowledge and leadership in senior administration at HBCUs, multicultural education, academic programming in leadership, and gender psychology.

This is a non-licensure, 16 credit hour, one-year certificate program. This post-graduate program will be presented in a unique online format tailored to the needs of busy academic professionals. Coursework will be offered primarily online, with face-to-face residencies in Washington, D.C. and mandatory Capstone experiences that include personalized coaching.

  • Term1: Overview of the Landscape and Future Trends in Academia
  • Term1: Practicum 1: Immersion
  • Term2: Essential Academic Leadership Competencies
  • Term2: Practicum 2: Coaching
  • Term3: Influencing and Negotiating Your Way to High Visibility and Achievement
  • Term3: Practicum 3: Capstone 1
  • Term4: Curriculum Design for Twenty First Century Students
  • Term4: Practicum 4: Residency 1
  • Term5: Shared Governance and Institutional Leadership in HBCUs
  • Term5: Practicum 5: Capstone 2
  • Term6: Practicum 6: Residency 2

The purpose of this program is to increase the pool of women (with 20 participants a year), especially women of color, in the STEM disciplines who are well prepared in the science of academic leadership for leadership roles in STEM and other institutional roles at HBCUs.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

The aim and content of the program itself is a sign of investing in the sustainability of a societal need. Especially because the program is based on previous experiences, knowledge and data from research with programs with similar aims. Professor Orlando Taylor (President of the DC campus of the Chicago School for Professional Psychology) who designed and implemented the program is an expert and visionary with years of experience as the previous Dean of Graduate School of Howard University in DC. He was one of the first deans who implemented Mc Nair programs, which is a federally funded TRIO Program This program funded at 200 institutions across the United States and Puerto Rico by the U.S. Department of Education is designed to prepare undergraduate students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities. McNair participants are either first-generation college students with financial need, or members of a group that is traditionally underrepresented in graduate education and have demonstrated strong academic potential. The goal of the McNair Scholars Program is to increase graduate degree awards for students from underrepresented segments of society.

The program has not been replicated elsewhere but has a second cohort within two years and can be expanded. On July 1st 2014 the program has been mentioned at the Gender Summit in Brussels as one of the promising and needed programs to develop and enhance more female leaders within academia.

Resources used in the initiative

The National Science Foundation granted the OURS program with a 1.8 million in seed funding in 2012. The total award for the OURS program is nearly 2.25 million dollars.


This initiative does not depend on volunteers. This is a prestigious professional development trajectory.

The costs funded by the NSF grant must be perceived as a positive sign given the status and reputation of NSF in the academic community.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

The first cohort of 20 women successfully finalising the program is a first celebration of the achievement of the program and the second cohort has started with 15 women. These alumni of the program and future alumni will positively impact the self-identification of young women from underrepresented groups at universities to continue after their undergraduate programs. These future leaders will be role models for future students and scholars. Although this outcome cannot be proved with hard evidence yet, the qualitative evidence is there already given the fact that the participants of the different Universities are celebrated and acknowledged. For instance:
The start of the program and the substantial grant of the National Science Foundation of $1.8 million is in fact a success itself because it acknowledges the need for more leadership of underrepresented groups in the STEM areas and is a national recognition of the quality of the program. The fact that additional money has already been given to the program proves the success of the first cohort.

More substantial data on the outcomes intended as well as unintended will be generated the coming years.

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